Best of the Web Award
The Johnson County Election Office Internet website was featured
as "Best of the Web" in the January 1998 issue of Government
Johnson County Election Office reaches
and educates voters via the Web"
by: Christine Poulos, Government Technology Web Editor
In order for democracy to work, voters must have a knowledge of the candidates and an awareness and understanding of the issues. In Kansas, the Johnson County Election Office website at www.jocoelection.org is a means of fostering that education and promoting voter interest.
According to Connie Schmidt, Johnson County Election Commissioner, the site came about two years ago as an offshoot of the Election Office's mission statement: "Serving the public by administering the election process and promoting voter participation."
" The site was an internal idea implemented by our own staff," Schmidt said. "Initially, we aimed to provide our users with an online book the goal of our mission statement."
Educating voters about the voting and election process is a top priority for Schmidt and her staff. For Johnson County's voters, the site offers voter registration information, sample ballots, poll locations, candidate biographies and pending legislation. "We wanted to make available all the information that we had in hard copy that would be inconvenient for people to come and get or that they would have to call us for," Schmidt explained. The Election Office site also provides its users with contact information for local government officials, such as telephone and fax numbers, and postal and/or e-mail addresses.
By making this information available online, the office has dramatically cut down on the number of calls and visits it receives - especially on election night. "The Web is the first place that we put up our election results. In fact, we tell people that by the time that we get the results, print them out, photocopy them and hand them out, the results have been available on the Web for several minutes or more," Schmidt stated.
Education also extends to prospective candidates. "Anyone who is interested in running for a political office can come to the site and find out the requirements to become a candidate - without verbally committing to it," Schmidt explained. This area of the site lists the deadlines for applications; the local elections and election dates; the offices up for election; and the fees and documentation required for a candidate to run for office. In addition, the site also features statistics, which include county voter registration; party affiliation and school district registration; a five-year election calendar; and information on elected officials currently in office.
In Johnson County, serving the public means more than just catering to voters or prospective candidates; it also means reaching out to the community's children. As part of this process, the Election Office uses the site as part of its Student and Community Outreach programs.
Informing and working with youths has been a key element in the Election Office's educational goal. Staff members regularly visit schools and teach students how the electoral process works by running mock elections and voting on a machine provided by the Election Office. A description of the project and the results of each election are then posted in the Student Outreach area of the site.
In addition, the site features descriptions of the program and how people can get involved. In fact, during the 1996 presidential election, the program produced more than 250 student "Field Assistants" who worked with the election office after school. The site also includes contact information for Election Office projects, links to educational websites, and information on how to start a school or community voting drive. "We feel very strongly that if we increase interest in voting at a young age, we will greatly up our voting turnout in the future," Schmidt said.
In terms of reaching the county's constituents, the site has been a success. In 1996, the site had more than 80,000 requests and an estimated 100,000 in 1997. Schmidt said that they have received a high number of positive responses from their sample ballots and poll location information - one of the first of such listings in the United States. People find the online sample ballots especially useful because they can look at the ballot and read the candidates' biographies.
Schmidt and Marco Segura, the site developer, are also proud of the site's ease of use. The site is in a simple, menu driven format, and it is easy to navigate. "In the future we will explore making it more attractive," Segura said, "but for now it works well for us since our material is text-based and intended for research."
Schmidt and Segura have exciting visions for making the site more interactive in the future. One of the key features slated for this year is a GIS map interface, which will allow users to highlight an area on a map and find out statistics about that area - from what the voting habits are, to who is in office and where the polling places are located. In addition, they plan on making candidates' campaign finance reports available, providing more statistics and implementing a search engine to increase the ease of navigation for the users. Looking even further ahead, if digital signatures are approved, election options will increase with online voting, online registration and much more.
But for now, the Election Office will continue to use the site to reach Johnson County and bring democracy to its residents. "We educate the people, and by turnout of voters who are educated about the issues and the candidates," Schmidt concluded.
Last Updated: March 10, 2010 11:31 AM